ULTIMATE Chord Differentiation For Guitar Based Learning

In this post I’d like to offer you a bespoke resource to help you hit the ground running with your beginner guitar lessons. These chords are what I often teach my beginners with, allowing them to begin engaging in our musical world much more effectively. They have proven extremely useful in 1:1/small group lessons, WCET sessions, and also in the classroom to aid with curriculum music learning and participation. The resource includes a sheet of split chords, and a sheet of full chords. For complete inclusivity, there are also left handed versions attached to each file!

The files are downloadable below.

If you have never read chord sheets before and would like to learn how to read them, or just want to top up or confirm your diagram reading skills, check out my post Understanding Chord Diagrams. This will tell you everything you need to know!

Split chords vs Full chords

Split Chords

I’m not sure who coined the term, but split chords are exactly what they say on the tin. They are reductions of the full shapes, designed to improve engagement in music making, participation in lessons and ensembles, and to maximise learner satisfaction.

Split shapes work essentially by omitting the E, A and D strings, focussing solely on the playing of the G B and E strings (with the exception of one chord). This makes the chords far easier to learn and master when compared to the full shapes. In general, the split chord demands less technical skill and less dexterity of a learner in the initial stages. This is great for any learners with a short attention span and learners that hope to achieve results quickly. Split chords can also be a useful way of sparking a learner’s interest to motivate them to want to learn more.

Full Chords

In my experience, full chords should only be used with learners that can demonstrate a level of mastery playing and changing between the split chords. The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, newcomers to chord playing will likely respond better to the challenge presented by the full chords once their attention has been caught and their willpower built with the mastery of split shapes.

Secondly, it helps more experienced players to set reasonable expectations of themselves if they are struggling with the full shapes in any way. Split chords will help bring attention to the details in the sounds of chords, as well as heighten the sense of mastery.

To understand more about the technical difference between a split and a full C chord, check out the diagrams beneath.

Split C chord
Full C chord

Here we can see that the full shape for the C chord uses two more fingers than the split shape and is much more of a stretch. It will not only take more effort for a learner to understand, but also more effort, time and concentration for them to play it correctly.

Theoretical Tip

Before beginning, be sure the learner knows their string names, what the frets are and how to count them to reduce disruption in your session. Also, be certain that learners are observing and sticking to the finger positions recommended in the diagrams. A knowledge of how to read chord diagrams is useful in a 1:1/small group setting, and essential in a classroom setting. Again check out my post that focusses on Understanding Chord Diagrams. There is lots of info here to help!

Technical Tip

For a stronger technique, good posture is essential.

A straight back and feet flat on the ground is a great start. The guitar should be sat on the right thigh if learning to play right handed, and left thigh if learning to play left handed.

The fretting hand fingers should be used on their tips with a good gap between the cup of the hand and the bottom edge of the guitar fretboard. The thumb of the fretting hand should be pointing towards the ceiling (like a ‘thumbs up’), and positioned around half way down the back of the guitar neck.

Chord Functions

Beneath are the diatonic chord functions of the chords featured in the downloadable resource. The parent keys are the keys of C and G. This information is for the benefit of you, the teacher, should your theory be a little rusty. Learners don’t need to be made aware of this straight away:

Key of C

C = I , Em = iii, F = IV, G = V, Am = vi

Key of G

C = IV, D = V, Em = vi, G = I, Am = ii

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